Washington — Religious leaders, including a Catholic archbishop, called for prayers for peace while urging government and rebel forces in South Sudan to lay down their arms and allow a tenuous cease-fire to take effect.
Fighting between forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, Kiir's former vice president, flared Monday, two days after the parties agreed to the cease-fire.
The renewed clashes in the oil-producing Upper Nile state dashed hopes for a swift end to five months of violence that has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than 1 million people to flee the conflict.
Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba was among several religious leaders who were present at the signing of the agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As the agreement was signed, Luduku Loro offered prayers for peace and said that "all South Sudanese have been waiting for this day for the last five months."
Joining the call for peace was Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio. He called on the South Sudanese to continue praying for peace, Anisa Radio reported. During Mass Sunday at St. Mary Yambio Parish, the bishop stressed that all citizens were responsible for working for peace and to support the cease-fire.
Despite the agreement, both sides accused each other of launching ground attacks and artillery barrages. Kuol Manyang, South Sudan's defense minister, said government troops had been ordered only to fight in self-defense.
Kiir told crowds in Juba on Sunday that government forces have been ordered "not to lift a foot from where they are to attack rebels."
Since fighting erupted in December, thousands of people have died and as many as 1.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. While the violence began as a rivalry between Kiir and Machar, ethnic loyalties soon took root, leading one U.N. official to say in a report earlier in May that "many of the precursors of genocide" were present.